Lokman Slim, prominent Hezbollah critic, shot dead in south Lebanon

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Lokman Slim, a prominent Lebanese Shiite publisher who criticised Iran-backed Hezbollah, was found shot dead in a car in southern Lebanon on Thursday, two security sources and his family said.

A judge following the case said the body of Lokman Slim had four bullets in the head and one in the back, in the first such killing of a known activist in years.

One of the security sources also said Slim, who ran a research centre and made films, was shot in the head. The second said Slim's phone was found earlier on the side of a road.

They said the motive was not immediately clear.

Slim, in his late 50s, was a leading Shiite voice who spoke against what he saw as Hezbollah's intimidation tactics and accused them of intolerance of other political views.

He was last seen after leaving the house of a poet friend on Wednesday night. His family said he went missing overnight. His wife tweeted that he was not answering his phone.

A relative said they found out about his death from a news alert while at a police station to report his disappearance.

Lebanon's caretaker interior minister told local media Slim died in "a terrifying crime" and pledged to pursue the case, which he called "an assassination".

But Slim’s sister, Rasha Al-Ameer, told FRANCE 24 that the family expects little truth to come out of such an investigation.

“The judiciary in Lebanon is not independent, so frankly, my family and myself are not expecting the investigation to lead to any [suspected] murderers,” she said, noting that “his murderers are known – he wrote about them many times”.

“We do not expect any truth from any investigation. Justice never happened in Lebanon until now […] Justice means [we have] to leave the totalitarian point of view that is prevailing in this part of the world.”

Ameer said that her brother had been aware that he was under threat for his activism, “but he never thought they would kill someone just for their ideas”.

“He said: ‘They will not do it, be courageous.’ He was courageous.”

Hezbollah's 'hubris'

Slim had made documentaries with his wife and led efforts to build an archive on Lebanon's sectarian 1975-1990 civil war.

In a 2018 interview with FRANCE 24, Slim detailed the methods deployed by Hezbollah to maintain its stranglehold on power among Lebanese Shiites and the wider country.

“Today, Hezbollah is in a kind of a hubris state,” he said. “At stake is not only the Shiites, Hezbollah is exerting hegemony over all communities.”

His criticism of Hezbollah faced rebuke from supporters of the heavily armed movement, who sometimes called him "an embassy Shiite," accusing him of being a tool of the United States.

Washington, which classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group, has ramped up sanctions against its officials and allies in Lebanon, part of a pressure campaign against Tehran.

Hezbollah did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Slim founded a non-profit to promote civil liberties, which had received a grant under the US Middle East Partnership Initiative and worked with an American think tank, leaked Wikileaks diplomatic cables said in 2008.

In a recent interview on Saudi's al-Hadath TV, Slim said he believed Hezbollah had a role in the port blast that ripped through Beirut in August, killing 200 people and injuring thousands.

In late 2019, Slim said his family home and offices were targeted by people gathering in the garden, chanting slurs and threats. His statement held Hezbollah's leader responsible.

At the time, Slim also said he had received death threats after speaking in a debate at a Beirut camp that was set up as protests against all the country's political leaders swept Lebanon.

"His murder is a very big loss for Lebanon, for culture," Hazem Saghieh, a well-known Lebanese journalist said. "He was one of a few who only knew how to speak his mind."

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)